One year after the earthquake in Kashmir: interview with national staff, Usman Abid, assistant logistician in Islamabad

"The most important thing was that we were working during the Ramadan without any breaks, working all the day. But we knew that any delay could have had important consequences for people who had lost their houses, everything."

Can you describe the context just after the earthquake?

Last year, on the morning of October 8, 2005, I was sleeping at my home, because it was the holy month of Ramadan. Most of the people were sleeping after they finished morning prayers.

"Suddenly I felt everything moving around me. In split seconds, my mind responded, 'It's an earthquake!' I moved out of my room and stood in open ground. It was horrible to see all the houses moving. It continued for almost 60 seconds, as I recall. There was no immediate destruction. A friend of mine sent me a text message from Islamabad telling me that a portion of Margalla Towers had collapsed.

"When I got into my room, I immediately started looking for news channels. The first thing I came across was a news flash on local channels and on websites reporting an earthquake in Pakistan, with the epicenter in the northern part. After an hour, news started to appear on different sites and channels, reporting more and more damage in Upper North West Frontier Provinces, Kashmir and collapsed buildings in Islamabad.

"Being the month of Ramadan, it was really painful to see the destruction of houses and dead bodies of people. Many people's reaction was thinking that it was the day of justice."

At what point did you join MSF and what is your role in the organisation?

"I had been acquainted with MSF from my previous job. I was medical administrator in one of their projects in Pakistan. I was watching news channels regularly and had felt pain when watching people in need of help and support. In almost every direction, there was a need for volunteers for local and international organisations.

"A few days after the earthquake, I started to work again as the person responsible for transit and transport activities for MSF projects in Bagh valley. I worked initially for three months on the same position, then I was promoted as national logistician and now I am responsible for; all the imported shipments; day to day maintenance in the office and in international staff houses; and responsible for the customs administrative formalities; as well as dealing with government departments."

Can you describe one of your normal days?

"In my normal day during those times, we were distributing non-food items such as blankets, plastic sheeting, tents, cooking sets, hygiene kits and medicines. I was fully responsible for all of our warehouses in Islamabad. We were working constantly, day and night, preparing to send non-food items (NFI) to our projects.

"The situation was very critical at that time because I was in charge of preparing all the NFI for convoys, each of them consisting of 22 to 27 trucks. Sometimes I went to check the road conditions from Islamabad to Bagh.

"The most important thing was that we were working during the Ramadan without any breaks, working all the day. But we knew that any delay could have had important consequences for people who had lost their houses, everything."

What is the most striking thing you remember from the intervention?

"I didn't see any cases in the hospital or anyone being hospitalised at that time because I was responsible for the NFI distribution in the logistics part, and I went just once to the field. But still my responsibility and main focal point was to plan the distribution of NFI and get feedback.

What is the situation like one year after the earthquake? Is the situation back to normal or is the earthquake still part of everybody's life?

"One year after, people still have problems and are facing different issues. Some families still don't have shelters, even if the relief phase is over and the rehabilitation and reconstruction has begun. Now, the winter season is coming soon and we have to give them at least all the basic facilities for their need. But indeed people are not satisfied with what they have for their basic needs. We have to do more and more. At least, to build the infrastructure."

What do you see as the next challenges?

"It is still the same challenge. Reconstruction, getting people to have a livelihood mechanism, to pick up their lives."